“…Djokovic will be vulnerable in the wake of his maiden French victory.”
“Murray’s serve was especially potent in Paris and will be even more so on the grass at SW 19.”
“Raonic has the potential to reach another Grand Slam semi-final and Federer’s talent, should take him far”
“On the distaff side of the draw, Serena must start favourite”
Physicists always remind me that what we see as permanent in our world is illusory. Accustomed and presumptuous as we are to think that man rules the perceived defined spaces of the Earth we are, in truth, living in a galaxy that is constantly expanding and relentlessly adding more space to our infinite Universe.
Just as well. After the last fortnight one is left to consider that the only hope for the world is the possibility of new spaces that may give us the opportunity to find new ways to manage ourselves. Presently, we only seem capable of revisiting the patterns and tragedies of the past.
The runaway truck driven by the Tunisian terrorist that massacred scores in Nice is a tragic metaphor of a world beset by seemingly uncontrollable problems: economic division in Europe, political malfunction in Australia and America, nationalist rivalries in the South China Sea, civil chaos in Zimbabwe and South Sudan and, just to ensure that everything old is new again, fresh political turmoil on the Dardanelles, with an attempted coup in Istanbul, which seems to me to be more of a government ruse to justify a Stalinist type purge than a genuine threat. No wonder the young believe that Pokemon Go is a worthier form of reality.
But, first back to the future. The parallels of time, place and pathos just kept coming in the weeks between the French Open and Wimbledon.
I saw Margaret Thatcher announce her resignation standing outside 10 Downing Street in November, 1990 having misjudged the nation’s appetite for her proposed poll tax and her party having decided that her scepticism about England’s involvement in the EU did not match the popular mood.
On 24th June, 2016, I watched fellow Tory PM David Cameron resign in the same spot, having misjudged the willingness of the English people to remain in the European Union.
Interestingly, neither Thatcher, nor Cameron lost the five elections in which they led the Conservative Party, although Cameron did have to form a coalition government after the 2010 poll. Throw in Tony Blair who won three elections for British Labour, but resigned in 2006 to hand over to his restless Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and you have the remarkable fact that three English Prime Ministers have been forced to resign, notwithstanding that they won eight elections between them without a single defeat. Until this year’s Championships Roger Federer had played in ten Wimbledon semi-finals without a defeat. Either you leave first or time catches up with you.
For most of Wimbledon- the results of which were predicted by your correspondent, as can be seen from the above, with piercing accuracy! -I felt as I was living again in 1983. And it is not just because Culture Club and Boy George are shortly to tour Perth!
In June, 1983, Margaret Thatcher, buoyed by the success of her campaign to reclaim the Falkland Islands, won her second British general election. At that time the British Labour Party was led by the elderly and hapless Michael Foot. Fast forward thirty three years. The Conservatives select another female Prime Minister, Theresa May. She will benefit, just as Thatcher did, from the Labour Party again being led by an elderly and politically doomed figure in Jeremy Corbyn.
But oh how the Zeitgeist of our times have changed. When Mrs. Thatcher campaigned for the leadership of the Conservative party in 1975 she was unapologetic about her experiences as a mother and housekeeper being an asset. A busy woman she said knew how to manage a budget and get things done, quipping “ if you want something talked about give it to a man, if you want something done, give it to a woman”. In 2016 Therese May’s rival for the keys to 10 Downing Street, Andrea Leadsom, was seen to have committed political suicide when she noted that her experience as a mother made her more suitable for the role. However, Jeremy Corbyn’s rival for the forthcoming Labour leadership ballot, Andrea Eagle, was able to gain kudos by proclaiming that as a gay woman from the north of England she truly understood the nature of the population.
The world is clearly not what it was. What would John Knox have made of images of Theresa May and Scotland’s first Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, having their post-Brexit negotiations? What would have Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt made of the possibility of a twenty-first century Potsdam with women leading each of Great Britain, Germany and America, which will be the case if Hilary Clinton is elected as American’s first female President in November? Mind you, Theresa May has learned much from the old men of the past. In appointing Boris Johnson as her Foreign Secretary she has copied Robert Menzies’ decision to appoint Richard Casey as his External Affairs Minister and thereby keep her major rival out of the country, where he can only inflict damage upon himself. Boris has Turkish and Russian blood in his heritage which could prove useful in his future discussions with both nations. But this is no time to inflict Kevin Rudd on the world as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Australia, like Great Britain, had a general election in 1983, which as in 2016, was a double dissolution election. The campaign was held in high summer, but its political hostilities were interrupted by the devastating Ash Wednesday bushfires that swept through Victoria and South Australia in the middle of February.
Fast forward thirty three years. Mid-way through the two month long winter campaign, wild rain, storms and flooding swamped much of the East Coast on the weekend of 4-5 June. In addition to the flooding rains on the east coast, including my hometown of Launceston, residents in Perth were frightened by two fatal shark attacks during the same week and this came not long after a woman was taken by a crocodile in Daintree. Even with our falling exchange rate, it is a miracle that anyone visits this country with its smorgasbord of natural calamities and dangers.
Of course 1983 was also the year of one of the world’s great sporting upsets when the one hundred and thirty-two-year stranglehold of America on the America’s Cup was ended by Australia’s unlikely victory. 2016 has had more than its fair share of once in a lifetime sporing upsets. Leicester’s win in the English Premier League after having been considered a 5000-1 chance at season’s start tops the list. In the Euro 2016 competition, France beats Germany for the first time in 58 years and Portugal wins the tournament for the first time, defeating France for the first time in 41 years. However, nothing compared to the shock triumph of Iceland over England in their Round of 16 knockout match.
In Basketball, Lebron James continued the romance. Literally the prodigal son he returned to guide the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title and the city’s first major sporting title in over fifty years. His team was the first to come from 1-3 behind in a best of seven final series, winning the last game against the Golden State Warriors on the Warriors’ home court. This had direct parallels with Australia II winning the America’s Cup in 1983 after being 1-3 down in its best of seven race series against America’s yacht, Liberty. Speaking of reversing the tide of the last fifty years, the Colombian government in late June signed a peace treaty with the FARC separatist movement to end the world’s longest running civil war, which in its 50 years has claimed over 220,000 lives and displaced 7,000,000 people.
Yet it was on the courts of Wimbledon that 1983 was literally replayed out in my mind more eerily than ever. On July 1, 1983 the High Court of Australia upheld the constitutional validity of Federal legislation passed by the recently elected Hawke government which relied on the external affairs power (s.51 (29)) to prevent the damming of the Franklin River in South-West Tasmania. That night at Wimbledon John McEnroe beat Ivan Lendl in their semi-final at Wimbledon 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 en route to his second title in three years. Fast forward thirty three years. Ivan Lendl is coaching Andy Murray who is seeking his second Wimbledon title in four years and John McEnroe is assisting Milos Raonic who makes his first Grand Slam final. In the final the McEnroe- Lendl 1983 semi-final score is all but recycled with Lendl’s charge triumphing 6-4 7-6 7-6.
And the time warp does not end there.
Twenty years before 1983, Dallas came to the world’s attention when a sniper slayed a President.
In early July 2016 a lone sniper again traumatises Dallas and America by killing five white policemen in revenge against the shooting of black suspects by policemen in Louisiana and Minnesota. And today there are further vengeful killings of policeman in Baton Rouge.
Election Eve in Australia this year was the centenary of the commencement of the Battle of Somme. Politics, rich as it is in irony, saw Malcolm Turnbull use the Brexit result to champion the cause for stability and incumbency. This ploy was a touch surprising given that he sought to gain support from the plight of a nation that he campaigned to reject in the 1999 Republic referendum. However, Malcolm Turnbull was able to emulate the pyrrhic victory of the Allied Forces on the Western Front by being re-elected with a wafer-thin majority. My ‘morning after’ thoughts on the reasons for the Coalition’s narrow victory, and the consequences and legacies of this latest turn in Australia’s political cycle, have been sent to my readers. For those who missed my further observations in a letter to The Australian and West Australian of July 8th, it is set out below:
As the nation wonders how it comes to this, we only have to look to ourselves. Whoever is in the Federal Parliament, the greater problem seems to be the inability of our nation to conduct intelligent and reasoned political debate. The writing was on the wall when Joe Hockey had to apologise for stating the objective truth that wealthier people travel more. Any attempt to genuine debate taxation reform and/or Federal/State taxation arrangements barely lasts more than a week before it is drowned out in hysterical emotional claims and counterclaims. To state the truth about how much Medicare costs and will continue to cost, what services are most important etc. risks one being called heartless or offensive. A population once recognised as being imbued with self-reliance and common sense has become overly dependent on government and increasingly offended at any suggestion that we may have to live without what they think the government owes them.
Thank goodness Wimbledon provided the distractions it did from Australia’s endless election campaign and the world’s problems. Certainly for a nation coming to terms with its Brexit decision and Euro 2016 loss, Andy Murray’s victory on the day that another hometown hero, Lewis Hamilton, won the British Grand Prix and Chris Froome continued to lead the Tour de France was a welcome tonic.
Bob Hawke once observed that the Australian public always get the election result right. His comment was not a facile one made to respect the democratic process, but rather to suggest that Australians can be trusted to recognise who is best equipped to govern them. Sadly, I suspect that too many of the Australian public no longer care about who governs them. However, if the former Prime Minister’s comments are accurate, it can be said that this year’s Wimbledon championships saw the crowning of champions that entirely deserved their victories.
Andy Murray and Serena Williams in winning their respective titles both exorcised similar demons. Both were playing in their third successive Grand Slam singles final after having lost their previous two. Both won their titles in straight sets. Both were imperiously dominant in their service games. Murray offered Raonic two break points, Williams offered Kerber one.
Andy Murray was playing in his eleventh Grand Slam final, but for the first time neither Djokovic nor Federer were on the other side of the net. For the first time since 2002 when Lleyton Hewitt beat David Nalbandian (like the Falklands and the last World Cup another loss for the Argentinians) neither Djokovic, Nadal nor Federer were in the Gentlemen’s final.
Murray played with assurance and confidence throughout the tournament. His only lapse was in his quarter-final against Tsonga when a seeming straight sets victory became an unexpected five set tussle. Djokovic’s fourth round loss to Sam Querrey proved that even the most dedicated gluten free, regimented and dedicated players cannot constantly maintain their physical and/or mental supremacy. Milos Raonic’s defeat of Federer was the best Gentlemen’s match of the tournament. Raonic’s resolve and ability to display a greater range and variety of shots in addition to his dominating serve made him a worthy finalist. Sadly, for him he was not able to reprise such versatility and power in the final where Murray’s prowess was complete in all areas of the game, especially in the tie-breaks where he raced to commanding early leads. Raonic felt the pressure and his forehand wavered and serve weakened. The first time Canadian Grand Slam singles finalist had come from two sets to love down to beat Goffin in the fourth round and from two sets to one down to beat Federer in the semi-final, but a third grand triumph was not to be.
Roger Federer’s epic quarter-final escape against Cilic, which saw him come from two sets to love down, and save match points in the fourth set tie-break was sporting romance personified, but one wonders whether an eighth title can now be his. Many people asked after the Australian election “would Abbott have done any better?”. Similarly, many people might wonder would Federer have beaten Murray. My answer is no to both questions, although I suspect Federer would have come closer to victory than Abbott.
Nick Kyrgios may take comfort from the fact that the tournament’s champion beat him in the fourth round; however, widespread criticism of his apparent lack of commitment and resolve at certain stages of his straight sets loss to Murray match could not please him. Certainly, he was disappointed enough to forego the chance of representing Australia at the Olympics and take a beach holiday in Croatia. His fellow conscientious objector to the Olympics, Bernard Tomic, also lost in the fourth round, being shaded 10-8 in the fifth set by Frenchman Lucas Bouille. Once again Kyrgios’ and Tomic’s effort were the best of the Australian contingent: Groth lost in the first round to Nishikori, Barton lost to Isner in the second round and Millman to Murray in the third. Samantha Stosur and Gavrilova were both defeated in the second round as was the French Champion, Muguruza.
Serena Williams won her first Wimbledon title in 2002 and, in winning her seventh title this year, created a new record of fourteen years between her first title and, for the time being, her last. Martina won her first title in 1978 and her record ninth twelve years later in 1990. Ken Rosewall played in finals twenty years apart, but was unsuccessful in both. For Serena to equal Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of twenty-two Grand Slam titles, she had to defeat another German player, Angelique Kerber, who had beaten her in the Australian Open final. Everything that went badly for Serena in the Australian final worked perfectly for her at Wimbledon. Once bitten, twice aggressive. Her serve was dominant and this time it was Kerber’s forehand that betrayed her at critical moments. With Beyonce and Jay Z in her supporters’ box Williams won 7-5 6-3, which is the identical score of Martina’s win in 1987 against Steffi Graf.
The Ladies Championships had some remarkable matches. Eastbourne champion, Cibulkova, won a remarkable three-hour match against Radwanska in the fourth round. Unforced errors were a rarity and free flowing winners were endless before Cibulkova won 9-7 in the third set. Sadly, for Cibulkova Wimbledon’s rainy fortnight, which saw the rare event of play being scheduled for the first Sunday of the tournament, meant that she did not have a day to recover before her quarter-final which she meekly lost to Russia’s Elena Vesnina. The Russian then lost her semi-final to Serena 2-6 0-6 in an embarrassing forty-eight minutes.
Kerber’s quarter-final win against Halep was similarly spectacular and compelling. If Raonic found it too hard to beat two of the greats in successive matches, Kerber similarly found it impossible to beat the Williams sisters in successive matches. Venus’ run to the semi-finals was as romantic as Roger’s, but compensation for her semi-final loss came when she and Serena won their sixth Doubles title and added to their remarkable record or never having lost a Grand Slam Doubles final in fourteen matches.
If Roger is close to his use-by date, then it appears the Bryan brothers may be also on the precipice of retirement. The twin 38 year olds lost their quarter-final on the same day that Britain’s Jonathan Marray and Andy’s brother, Jamie Murray also lost their respective matches. The Gentlemen’s Doubles was an all-French affair with No. 1 seeds Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut defeating Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Their first Wimbledon title added to their US Open victory in 2015.
Iceland may not have been able to complete the fairy tale at Euro 2016, but a Finnish player, Henri Kontinen teamed with England’s Heather Watson to win the Mixed Doubles title. Watson’s victory was the first by an English woman since Jo Durie won the Mixed Doubles in 1987 when she teamed with compatriot Jeremy Bates, making the tournament’s final day a grand one for England. A week after Wimbledon the good sporting news for the Nordic countries continued when Henrik Stenson became the first Swede to win one of the four major golf tournaments by winning the British Open played in near Arctic conditions at Troon on the west coast of Scotland.
For only the third time in the Open Era all five titles were decided in straight sets as they were in 1986 and 2010. The No. 1 seeds won the Ladies’ Singles and the Gentlemen’s Doubles, the No.2 seed the Gentlemen’s Singles and two unseeded pairings- Williams and Williams and Kontinen and Watson-claimed the remaining silverware.
Speaking of silverware, Serena’s name will be the first to be inscribed on a plinth on which the Venus Rosewater plate will rest as it can record no more names on its historic radius. And, of course, where and how does one compare and rank the names of the great champions? Serena now has seven Wimbledon titles, matching the number won by Graf. Also on seven are Sampras, who won a remarkable seven titles from seven finals, and Federer who has won seven from ten. Martina has nine from twelve. As with our universe, the debates and arguments are infinite.
It seems that the debates and arguments of many nations at the moment are equally vast-Brexit, immigration, globalisation, gun control, medical insurance, gay marriage, animal welfare- and I wish to record my opposition to the myopic ban on all greyhound racing in New South Wales-, superannuation and anti-terrorism laws just to name a few.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man it is said. Yet at a time when the world’s need for purposeful economic, foreign and social policy has clearly arrived, we have too many cynical electorates and electors. The bell tolled for all of us during Andy Murray’s victory speech. He respectfully, especially given he supported Scottish independence and may well have the chance to do so again, thanked David Cameron for attending the final, noting that as tough as the life of a professional tennis player is it is nothing compared to the “impossible” work of a Prime Minister. Many of the Centre Court crowd jeered at the mention of the Prime Minister’s presence.
Too much popular anger of a visceral and dismissive kind abounds and is being directed entirely at the wrong targets. Of all the expressions and comments that are being said and made at this time, the most dangerous may be the sneering contempt expressed by too many in the West about the worth of our democracies. If we are to fight the worthy battles, then we must recognise that the enemy is not us.
Too many do not recognise the great freedoms that we have. And is there any greater freedom than the one that allows everyone to participate in the grandest tournament of life being democracy? In the gloaming of this year’s Wimbledon, let us remember that we are all blessed to have an equal democratic seeding and a serve and a nerve to hold. ”Linesmen ready? Ball boys ready? Play!“ There is a world to be saved and a US Open to anticipate. Not to mention the possibility of a Great Britain v France Davis Cup Final which, given the travails of both nations this year, may well be a contest scripted by the Gods of our ever mysterious universe.
18th July, 2016